01 March, 2011

Why I'm not here.

I place nearly all the blame on Banff.  
(Photo: World Tourism Place)
More than a decade ago, I was here.  And yes, I can confirm, it really is that absurdly beautiful.  My boyfriend, who would eventually become my husband, had been invited, and I got to tag along.  It was winter, which meant skiing.  Did I mind?  Nooo. Could I ski?  Sure, I mean, the basics.  A little. (Not too much chance of that living in Africa, I neglected to add.)  It was just the four of us, and since the Canadians and my boyfriend were experienced skiers, it was tactfully suggested that I take a refresher course to begin with.  And off they went to the black diamonds, whatever those were.

Since I could ski, the basics, a little, the ski instructor evaluating my apparently killer moves on the bunny slope decided to promote me to the class above beginner.  My weakly bleated protests--but I'm happy here!--were cheerfully ignored.  You'll be fine!  So off we non-beginners went, up the mountain, past the bunny slope beginners. And up, still higher, on the swaying chairlift.  I looked down happily at the tops of the pine trees, the glinting snow, the tracks left by the wild animals.  I tried to be in the moment.  Then I tried to remember the poster that showed how to get off the lift.  I asked the person sitting next to me.  Her advice and my will proved lacking: I got off but it was by no means the standard exit, unless you call eating snow standard.  Once standing/sliding on my skis again, I took one look downhill, and my stomach lurched ominously.   Most of my internal organs went off to hide in my new, extra-thick socks. 

The chairlift had dropped us off at a heinously precipitous point, where the well-worn, very narrow trail hugs the mountain until it finally widens out again--and swoops downward.  I only made it through that narrow part by staring very, very hard to my left at the rising mountain, and practicing some hard-core denial.  I can testify fear of heights can appear quite suddenly at any age.   

The group ski instructor had gone ahead, impossibly far down, and we were to join him.  No one was ready for it. Everyone was so polite. After you. No, please, after you! Finally there were three.  And then there was just me. 

I simply could not move forward.  The instructor waved at me.  I waved back, limply.  It was too far to yell, so finally he left to follow the rest of the class, and I was on my own.  I hoisted my legs up to get those mile-long skis pointed in the right direction (the chairlift! home! my bed!).  However, the right direction included passing that steep drop-off.  My entire body locked up with the first glance.  Preternaturally vivid images of me defying the laws of nature, flying out into the air, and returning in a half-circle to hit the mountain-splat! ran in a continuous mental loop.  I finally got moving by taking off the skis, so that I wasn't sliding anymore, and was thus more firmly attached to the ground.  I crept back, whispered to the raised eyebrows of the lift operator that I needed to get down the hill, on his machine, without wearing skis.  He had to stop the chairs for me, and then I got to have my ride of shame, with all the good folks going up the hill on the chairlift rubbernecking at the sunglasses-wearing fool going down the hill on the chairlift. Holding her skis.

When I finally got down to where I was to meet the others, my legs shook. For an hour.  But I had time to recover, and when they finally swooshed toward me in a blaze of flying snow and adrenaline and breathlessly said, How'd it go?  I chirped, Fine! Good!  Once in the privacy of our room, I melted into a quivering, snotty-nosed mess.  Buzz-kill, even if we did have a corner fireplace, little carved moose on the mantel and radiant heating under the slate floors.
(Photo: Discover Holidays CA)
We later had drinks here, at the Fairmount, very posh, and I was all chatty to avoid the more obvious questions.  And really, Banff is full of charm, with some surprisingly top-shelf Japanese restaurants to boot (they get a good number of Japanese tourists). 

I hear the skiing's wonderful.

It hasn't gotten any better for me since then, though not for lack of trying.  [Insert various images of me struggling downhill here].  This is why I'm on my own and packing.  My fearless children and husband are off skiing, and I get to have some me time.
Okay, add a few years on the girl (not that many!), subtract the hotel (I'm apartment-sitting), eliminate the petit café avec le beau gosse (husband might not be impressed), and change the city.

I'm taking the train to Lyon. 


  1. Great story! I've been to Banff a couple of times but always in the summer. It is extraordinarily beautiful (as your pictures show). I relate to the skiing part of this too as I'm not a strong skier (I did learn en France however!). The last time I went it involved a lot of falling down. I did not enjoy it. Have a good time in Lyon.

  2. I'm off to Switzerland tomorrow for two weeks of skiing. Okay, I can only afford a few days of actual skiing, but as you well know, après-ski is a fine sport as well. I do it because I think I should, not because I actually LOVE,LOVE,LOVE it. I'm a weeny and each year the first several tries are an exercise in terror. You'd think at my age I'd have gotten over it by now. Enjoy your me time and have fun in Lyon.

  3. My husband and I spent one of the best weeks of our lives in Vancouver, BC. We knew it was to be our last hurrah before settling down and having babies. We never made it to Banff, but we had planned on it. I hear it is gooooorgeous. That's a pretty amusing story about your ski adventures. I'm quite sure I would do the exact same thing.

    And that video is delightful. Enjoy Lyon. Can't wait to see your photos.

  4. Hello Charles,
    Yes, the falling down repeatedly is a whole 'nother issue, but I could have handled that... Good for you for pushing onward!

    Hi Delana,
    Oh, it's only a matter of time before l'aprés-ski is recognized as an Olympic sport. Best get your training in now--I've heard it's murder (especially the next morning...)

    Hi Rose,
    Ah, life before the little ones. Sometimes seems impossible to have had those broad expanses of free time we non-parents used to have. I have always wanted to visit Vancouver. You're one up on me. I'm in Lyon, and I FORGOT MY CAMERA. Luckily, a WONDERFUL friend will loan me her point and shoot.

  5. I was barely twenty years old when 3 friends and I went to Avoriaz for 1 week. I am not really a skier but what happened to you, happened to me too. We took the lift. I fell getting off the chair. I took a look at the steep descent and went down, with my skis on my shoulders. I knew I was going to break a limb or even die if I had skied down. I can take snow for a day or two but hate cold weather. I guess it is why I ended up in Southern California. Lyon, the city of gastronomy!!! Lucky you!

  6. Oh, what a wonderful story (in retrospect only!) of your coming back down IN the lift. I guess I never quite got up the courage to do that...but always wanted to! You see, I AM afraid of heights, very afraid, and it only gets worse with age. Looking down those mountains is a terrifying experience! I feel for you. Of course, I gave up any pretense of skiing years ago, and am much happier for it.... and of course, shopping is the best alternative..
    I like your blog, and stories, and will be back....

  7. Hi Nadege,
    Ugh. Not fun! But you found your place in the sun...

    Hello aneyefordetail,
    Thank you for visiting! I think you were absolutely right to give up skiing. Life's too short as it is, n'est-ce pas?


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